Remi’s Ratatouille

When I watched the 2007 cartoon movie Ratatouille in the theater, I was immediately drawn to the namesake dish that won over the food critic and began my quest to learn to reproduce it. I had made several other versions of the French vegetable dish – including Julia Child’s in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I loved – but the crisp presentation of the movie version really caught my eye.

I quickly learned that the French Laundry’s Chef Thomas Keller was the food consultant for the movie. It took me many months to track down the recipe, finally resorting to buying a 40-page folio of recipes on ebay that had been given to Academy Award members to promote the movie.

The recipe looked straightforward enough, but I quickly learned it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. It took me three tries, making errors in following the recipe, before I got it right. Even then, I found it was a rather labor intensive recipe, taking 2 hours to prepare each 8-10 servings, not counting the time to shop for vegetable of similar diameter.

I modified the recipe to keep notes for myself on the preparation steps (see below). Here are photos of the major steps.

Found vegetables of similar diameter
Zucchini & summer squash sliced on a mandolin. Roma tomatoes & Japanese eggplant sliced with a ceramic knife (because of their tough skins).
1. Bell peppers cut for roasting to peel skins for piperade
2a. Cooking the piperade
2b. Piperade spread on a baking sheet
3. Tiling the vegetable disks over the piperade
4. Seasoned vegetables – to be covered and baked
6a. Broiled vegetables
6b. Finished byaldi timbale with smear of vinaigrette
6c. Plate of 9 byaldi timbales

My finished byaldi aren’t as pristine as the photo from the movie, but the movie photo is certainly not from the precise recipe, since according to the recipe, the vegetables are coated with an herb and oil mixture and broiled.

The completed precious servings are absolutely delicious! It’s hard to keep diners from grabbing more than one, but remember: It takes about 2 hours of labor to make each 8-10 servings! One per person is enough for a Nouvelle Cuisine sized portion; two makes a nice appetizer.

Here’s my recipe:

Remi’s Ratatouille: Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi

Rod’s modified version – for one 11×17” baking sheet pan = 10 small servings

FOR PIPERADE

1 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup finely diced yellow onion (~¼ large Vidalia onion)

1 28 oz can petit diced tomatoes with juices -or- 6 tomatoes (1½ lbs)

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

1 bay leaf

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

FOR VEGETABLES (about 70 slices of each)

2 zucchini (8 to 10 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds

1 Japanese eggplant, (8 to 10 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds

2 yellow squash (8 to 10 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds

6 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds

1 teaspoon minced garlic

4 teaspoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon thyme leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR VINAIGRETTE

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 20 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 11×18” baking sheet pan.

3. For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees. Along a long edge, arrange a strip of alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Repeat until pan is filled – 6 strips should fill the pan; all vegetables may not be needed.

4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (If will be served cold, before cooling, broil to brown vegetables, as in step 6.) At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.

5. For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

6. To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Using an offset spatula, very carefully lift 1/2 of a row – about 8” worth – onto a plate . Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding the byaldi into a timbale shape with piperade inside and cap the timbale with a few slices of vegetable. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot, warm, or chilled.

Yield: 10 small timbale-sized servings

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Chinese Braised Pigs Feet

Among my favorite cuts of meat have been the fatty cuts of pig with substantial quantities of pig skin still attached – particularly pigs feet. I don’t intend to get into a debate on the health effects of consuming animal fats (though I’ll note that it was only after I was convinced that I should go on a low fat diet – which I followed for several years – that I developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels). Anyway, I love the succulence and luxuriously gelatinous mouth feel that braised pigs feet provide – it is hard to match. Using a pressure cooker, it’s a reasonably quick process. Here’s how I prepare them.

First, note that there are two types of pigs feet: the front and rear feet, and they are usually sold separately. I was told that I should use one rather than the other, but can’t remember which. I’ve found I like the skinnier feet, though, because they have a higher skin to meat ratio; after all, I’m after the skin and underlying fat and connective tissue and not the meat.

More importantly, to eat the skin, it has to be plucked of all its bristly hair! I’ve found that some stores/butchers provide meticulously cleaned pigs feet, free from all hair. Although one can pluck the hair from the pigs feet with good kitchen tweezers, it’s a lot of work. So now I won’t bother to buy pigs feet on which I see any hair remaining – typically found between the toes). It’s an inexpensive cut – here’s what I found the other day at CAM Asia Market in Columbus, OH.

That’s two pigs feet, each sawn in half lengthwise, then into 5 pieces across. (The other type of pigs feet look much the same, but with a much meatier upper leg portion – and they were somewhat more expensive.)

I generally followed the recipe in Chinese Style Braised Pork Feet first parboiling them, starting them in the pressure cooker pot with cold water to cover, bringing it to a full boil, and cooking for 3 minutes to rid the feet of blood, bone chips, and other impurities that would cause off-tastes and textures (a process called “gwo sui” in Cantonese). Drain and rinse well under running cold water.

Clean out the pressure cooker pot and replace the pigs feet into it with fresh cold water to cover. Seal the pressure cooker and heat on high until proper pressure has been reached, then set the burner to low and cook under pressure for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the pressure subside naturally (about 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare the braising ingredients (listed below).

Ladle out the excess cooking broth until it barely covers the pigs feet. (Save the excess pigs feet broth for other use – in soups or for cooking.) Add the braising ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring the pork about every 10 minutes to avoid it sticking to the bottom, and checking the thickness of the braising liquid: If it’s too thick, add some of the reserved broth or water. Place the pigs feet into a serving bowl. Reduce the remaining braising liquid, if necessary, to thicken and add to the pigs feet.

Serve with white rice to enjoy the delicious, richly gelatinous sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 pork feet (1 kilograms / 2 pounds), each one chopped into 6-10 pieces
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, thickly sliced

For Braising

  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, coarsely smashed
  • 1/2 cup white part of scallion
  • 1-2 dried chili peppers, split to remove seeds and ribs
  • 1 1/2 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon crystal sugar (or white sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing wine
  • 2 teaspoons salt (not used for lower-salt diets)

Jacques Pépin’s Tortilla Pizza Snacks

I had the great pleasure of taking a Crystal Cruise to Bordeaux on which Jacques Pépin was the celebrity chef. He was a delightfully engaging and amazingly knowledgeable cook. He autographed 4 of his cookbooks that I took on that trip for him to sign. I’m delighted that he continues to offer informative videos on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ChefJacquesPepin/

I’ve added one of his quick, handy ideas to my cooking repertoire: his Tortilla Pizza Snacks. I now keep a pack of small and large flour tortillas in my refrigerator, along with packs of grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and sliced pepperoni, and a container of quick homemade tomato sauce. Whenever I hunger for a little snack, I prepare a little pizza and pop it into my toaster oven or regular oven and have a tasty, satisfying snack in 15 minutes, with less than 2 minutes of prep time (I start preheating the oven before assembling the ingredients). They turn out somewhat like Columbus-style pizzas – much more satisfying than the English muffin pizzas I used to make.

Thanks, Chef Pépin!

Homemade 13 Bean Soup

I know I should be incorporating more beans in my diet for better health. My local food store, Fresh Thyme, had a huge sale on their bulk dried 13 Bean Soup mix, since they were discontinuing it. so I bought up several pounds of it.

Using the basic recipe on the bin label and Janetta’s 15-Bean Soup recipe, I gathered up the ingredients and cooked up a batch.

First, I soaked 2 cups of the 13 Bean Soup beans overnight, then rinsed and drained them. See how pretty they are when hydrated!

To make split pea soup, I’ve bought smoked ham bones from my local Honey Baked Ham store, where they’re usually on sale as Buy One, Get One free. They’re reasonably priced and have quite a lot of ham still on the bones. But the extra bone takes up a lot of space in my small freezer and now cooking just for myself, that’s a lot of ham. Fortunately, I found that smoked ham hocks also work quite well. My favorite international markets didn’t have any this day, but I found a big smoked ham hock at my favorite smoked meat shop, Thurn’s Specialty Meats.

I put the ingredients into a large stock pot, brought it to a boil, then lowered it to a simmer over low heat, and cooked it covered for 3 1/2 hours, stirring it occasionally, turning the ham hock. I didn’t add any salt, since the ham hock would have some, and I could always add salt, soy, or fish sauce when serving.

I removed the ham hock and cut it into pieces, intending to mince the meat and add it to the soup. However, this ham hock was still not very tender even after 3 1/2 hours of cooking, so I reserved the meat and bones for another round of bean soup preparation. I ladled out a large serving of the soup into a smaller pot and heated some cooked rice and diced, peeled tomatoes in it for about 20 minutes and served it. (The rice is needed to complement the amino acids in beans to make a complete protein.) The soup is quite hearty and very tasty!

I saved the remaining soup in covered plastic containers. It keeps well for several days refrigerated and for months frozen. This is a keeper of a recipe – and what a bargain the beans were!

Ingredients – quantities are quite flexible

2 cups 13-bean soup mix, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
2 quarts water
1 smoked ham hock (optional omit for vegetarian soup)
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, cut into 1″ pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 1″ pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 stalks scallion, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 small-bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon’s zest
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 quarts mixed chicken broth, beef broth, water

Pumpkin Pie from scratch

It’s only early September, yet I’ve found fresh pie pumpkins at my local Meijer’s supermarket – for only $1.50 each! I really love pumpkin pie, so I hauled out an old guide I’ve been using for years and made myself one today.

PickYourOwn.org has this terrific guide: “How to Make Homemade Pumpkin Pie – from
a Real Pumpkin, Not a Can!”
It’s long, but it covers everything – including how to save and roast the pumpkin seeds.

The little pumpkin I found – pie pumpkins are much smaller than the carving ones – was smaller than the ones I’ve found in past years, but it produced about 2 ½ cups of cooked pumpkin, which was just enough to make one 9″ pie. (Past years’ larger pie pumpkins always produced quite a bit of leftover pumpkin glop, which I ended up baking in ramekins along with the pie.)

Steaming the pumpkin was easy in my covered steamer pot (like the one in the PickYourOwn guide). I scooped out the pumpkin meat with a rice paddle and scraped the pumpkin skin clean with a tablespoon, then pureed it with a stick blender, and mixed in the other ingredients with a whisk.

I made a graham cracker pie crust – which I find is easier and more to my taste than a rolled dough crust – following the instructions on the graham cracker box, putting the crackers and spices in a gallon ZipLoc Freezer Bag and crushing the crackers into crumbs with a rolling pin, then adding the melted butter to the bag and kneading the mixture in the closed bag to evenly moisten the crumbs. I empty the crumbs into a 9″ metal pie pan distributing them evenly and up the sides with the help of a measuring cup or small bowl, and pressing it into place with a matching pie pan.

Notes:
To match Asian taste preferences for less-sweet desserts, I cut the sugar in the original recipe back by 1/2.
Using 4 eggs (as noted in the original recipe) creates a lighter, fluffier pie.

Pie Filling Ingredients: (adapted from PickYourOwn.org’s recipe)

2 ½ cups pureed cooked pumpkin
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg – optional (I grate a whole nutmeg on a Microplane grater)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs (use 3 eggs for a denser pie)
1 can (12oz) evaporated milk

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 425ºF.
Mix pie filling ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl.
Fill the pie crust close to the top.
Place the pie pan onto a baking sheet (just in case the filling overflows, though my hasn’t ever).
Bake for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 350ºF and bake another 45 to 60 minutes, until a clean knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (Check visually after 45 minutes. The filling will rise from to a dome from the edges. Test with a knife when the dome has risen evenly to the center.)

Remove and let cool before serving with whipped cream.

Sous Vide Char Siu (叉烧肉)

I’ve always loved Char Siu – Chinese BBQ Pork. In my childhood, my grandfather sold it in his Chinese grocery store at 77 Mott Street in NYC’s Chinatown, making it in their tall, hot Chinese oven in which they roasted all the kinds of meats you can still see hanging in some Cantonese food stores.

I’m glad I can find it in Columbus, Ohio at the Sunrise markets. But it’s hard to find the properly half-fatty half-lean versions (位半肥瘦叉燒) and there really isn’t any substitute for the unctuousness of the fatty pork in this dish – the lean ones are too dry for my taste. So I’ve been on a decades-long quest for a recipe that I could successfully make for myself at home.

Eureka! Thanks to my friend May Lee, I tried a YouTube recipe she shared on Facebook. https://youtu.be/5V6CDqxEkQk

It’s non-traditional, as it calls for cooking the pork sous vide and not in a searingly-hot Chinese oven (which are quite rare here), but it has the advantage of producing char siu that is more tender than the traditional preparation.

Two of the ingredients were difficult to find – Fermented Red Bean Curd and Maltose – but I eventually located them at Saraga International Market.

I was happy to find a 5+ pound piece of Boston Pork Butt Roast in my local Meijer supermarket on sale at $0.99/pound, which after deboning and cutting into strips about 1.5″ thick x 3″ wide x 9″ long, yielded (5) pieces about 1 pound each (so I used 5 times the YouTube recipe for the marinade and glaze). I marinaded them as instructed in two one-gallon ZipLoc bags for 24 hours, then shook of most of the marinade, re-bagged into five individual vacuum bags, and vacuum sealed them. I racked them up to cook them in my Sous Vide Demi at 140ºF for 12 hours. After removing the bags and flash chilling in ice water, I removed the pork from the bags and shook the bag liquids from the pork strips. (I actually dried some off with paper towels before broiling, but found it didn’t make much difference leaving them semi-dry.) I put them on a rack above a roasting pan with about 2 cups of water in the bottom of the pan (to reduce scorching and smoking of the drippings), brushed both sides with reserved marinade, and broiled them on one side at 500ºF for 5 minutes. Then brushed on another coating of the marinade on the broiled side and broiled for another 5 minutes. Brushed on a third marinate coating plus a coating of the glaze and flipped them over. On the second side, brushed on another coating of the marinade and broiled for 5 minutes. Brushed on another marinate coating plus a coating of the glaze and broiled for 3 minutes. Finally, brushed both sides with another coating of the glaze. Voila! Char siu that looks and tastes like the restaurant/store-bought versions, but actually somewhat more tender! The broiling resulted in bits that are a little charred, as is proper, providing bits with the characteristic slightly burnt taste and texture. The additional brushings of the glaze – as suggested in the video, but not reflected in the recipe – resulted in the proper sweetness.

What a treat! Better than most store-bought or restaurant versions and producing over 4 pounds of cooked char siu for about $8 – compared to $8/pound in the store. I put most of the finished char siu strips in fresh bags, vacuum packed and froze them for later (slicing some of them and bagging them in about 4 ounce portions for quick thawing and use).

I’m delighted with the results. The only challenging part of the process was handling the maltose, which is incredibly thick and sticky, but manageable after microwaving the portion in 10-second increments to liquefy it before mixing with honey and water to make the glaze. I’d also reduce the amount of Five Spice Powder a bit, since its flavor is so pronounced.

I’m adding this to my list of keeper recipes! Here’s my adjusted recipe:

Sous Vide Char Siu

(Adapted from Kind of Cooking – Sous Vide, Recipes, and More
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V6CDqxEkQk)

INGREDIENTS 

1 lb of Pork Shoulder – Boston Butt, if available, for mix of fatty and lean

Marinade (for each 1 lb strip of pork)

2 cloves of Garlic, smashed
2 pieces of Chinese Fermented Red Bean Curd
1 tablespoon of Maltose
1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon of Soy Sauce 
1 tablespoon of Oyster Sauce
1 tablespoon of Dark Soy Sauce
½ teaspoon of Five Spice Powder
¼ teaspoon of Ground White Pepper 
1 tablespoon of Sugar

Finishing Glaze (for each 1 lb strip of pork)

1 tablespoon of Maltose 
1 tablespoon of Honey 
1 tablespoons of Water

INSTRUCTIONS

Mix together marinade ingredients.
Cut pork into long strips about 2-3 inches x 1-2 inches.
Trim pork to your preference – I enjoy mine with a bit of fat … Don’t judge me.
Pour marinade into a bag or dish; Reserve some for glazing during finishing. 
Place pork strips into the bag or dish.
Marinade refrigerated for 12-24 hours.

Set your sous vide to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. (You can also set a temperature that you prefer between 140º and 165ºF.)
Remove pork strips from the marinade bags, 
Since we will be sous viding for a long period seal them in vacuum bags.
Place the sealed bags into the water bath for 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to as hot as it will go. (I set mine on Convection Broil at 500ºF.)
Place pork on wire rack on a baking sheet and brush with leftover marinade. 
Add a bit of water to the baking sheet to avoid smoking,
Bake/broil for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush on a second layer of the marinade. 
Bake/broil for another 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush the glaze. 
Flip the pork slice to char the second side.
Brush with the marinade. 
Bake/broil for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush on a another layer of the marinade. 
Remove from oven and brush the mixture of maltose, honey, and water. 
Bake/broil for 3-5 minutes, until bits of the pork become charred.
Remove from oven.
(Alternatively, you can make use of a blow torch if you have one.)

Finish by adding another layer of glaze on both sides of the pork.
Let the pork rest for 10 minutes.

Slice and serve, or use for cooking in other dishes.
– or –
Flash chill in ice water for later use (vacuum pack in fresh bags to store or freeze).

Enjoy!

Fish scaling clamp

I love eating fresh fish – especially the fish skin. Alas, many fish fillets I find in markets have not had their skins scaled, making the skin inedible. Yet the healthiest part of fish like salmon is the omega-3 rich fat layer just under the skin!

Years ago, I bought a clamp that held the end of the fillet so I could scale it – very difficult to do without a clamp, since the fillet is so slippery. (Scaling whole fish is somewhat more manageable, since I can usually get a grip on it.) Alas, I lost that clamp and couldn’t find another one – until I accidentally bought one in a set of hot dish holders sold to remove dishes from food steamers and ovens. One of them was to clamp the edge of a plate – also usable to clamp my fish fillets!

Here’s the clamp in use, along with the best fish scaler I’ve ever found: a heavy brass one made in Japan. It does a brilliant job of removing scales easily yet gently, so it doesn’t tear the fish skin.

Of course, the clamp also works nicely holding the tail of a whole fish for scaling.

I’ll admit that I have too many kitchen gadgets. But some, like this one, are simply indispensable to do the jobs I need.

choosygourmand@att.net

Steamed Tofu with Shrimp

With the Stay-at-Home orders and closing of our favorite restaurants due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, I’m finding ways to feed my Mom and myself at home while minimizing my trips to food markets. Searching for foods that will keep while avoiding processed foods as much as I can for health reasons, I’ve been trying recipes that will let me do so.

I’ve found that frozen shrimp keep well and can be thawed reasonably quickly. One of the few processed foods I always keep in my refrigerator are a few boxes of Japanese tofu since they have a shelf life of several monthS, yet appear to be free of offending processed food additives.

Combining parts of recipes I found on the Internet, I made a version of one of the dishes at our favorite local Cantonese restaurant, Asian Taste that they offer on their Authentic Chinese Menu called “Steam Stuff Shrimp & Tofu”.

I started from a recipe for Chinese Steamed Tofu with Shrimp and Scallops. Rather than topping the tofu slices with a shrimp and scallop, though, I wanted a layer of shrimp paste between the tofu and shrimp. So I took a recipe for Shrimp Mousse I used to make Shrimp Toast Appetizers. (Since Mom is on a low-salt diet, I omitted the salt from the original recipe. The shrimp mousse was flavorful enough.)

The sauce and alternative final preparation was somewhat like the scallion, ginger, soy sauce one used for classic Cantonese Steamed Fish.

Here’s the combined recipe.

INGREDIENTS

1 12oz package of tofu – soft or firm, to your preference

1 shoot of scallion green, julienned into 24 1½” lengths for final garnishing

½ teaspoon sesame oil for marinating the whole shrimp

Steamed white rice to serve with the dish

Shrimp Mousse

8 oz shelled and deveined shrimp, 41/50 size. Reserve 8-12 whole shrimp for topping.

½ teaspoon salt, optional

½ teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 dashes ground white pepper

Sauce

2 tablespoons finely sliced ginger

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ teaspoon sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

Marinate the reserved whole shrimp in ½ teaspoon sesame oil. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 4 hours.

Prepare the Shrimp Mousse: Rinse the shrimp with cold running water; drain and pat dry with paper towels. Put the unreserved shrimp and all the other Shrimp Mousse ingredients in a food processor with chopping blade. Blend well until the shrimp becomes sticky like a mousse. Remove from the food processor and set aside.

Prepare the steamer: Add 1 to 2″ water to a large pan or wok with lid. Use either a rack that will elevate the dish above the water or a bamboo steamer that just fits on the edge of the pan or in the wok.

Open the tofu box and drain the small amount of water. Cut the block of tofu into 8 to 12 equal sized blocks, roughly 1½” x 1½” x ½”. Arrange on a heatproof plate that will fit in your steamer.

Top each tofu block with a layer of shrimp mousse, followed by a marinated whole shrimp, then an “x” from 2 julienned scallion pieces.

Heat the steamer water to boiling and place the plate on the rack or bamboo steamer and cover. Steam on medium-high heat for 6 minutes or until the shrimp turns pink. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. In a small pot, heat the sesame oil and ginger for about 1 minute, gently cooking the ginger, though not frying it. Stir in the soy sauce and sugar. Turn off heat.

Remove the tofu plate from the steamer. Remove the water that has accumulated on the plate, leaving a few tablespoons to mix with the sauce, reducing its saltiness. Spoon the sauce over the tofu & shrimp blocks and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

ALTERNATIVE FINAL PREPARATION: Though this will add more last-minute preparation steps, to preserve a fresher appearance, reserve the julienned scallion and uncooked sauce ingredients until the end. Heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil in a small pot until it smokes. Dissolve the sugar in the soy sauce. Sprinkle the sweetened soy sauce over the steamed tofu and shrimp blocks. Top each with ginger and scallion threads. Carefully drizzle the hot oil over the tofu blocks to sizzle the ginger and scallion threads. Sprinkle with sesame oil and serve immediately.

Auspicious Chinese New Year Dishes

My Mom and I had the good fortune of being invited to a lavish Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner at the home of our friends, James & Elizabeth Wong, who had rushed back from a stay in Hong Kong to prepare and host the dinner for a small group of family and friends.

As dictated by Chinese tradition and superstition, there are a host of dishes to be served and eaten during the Chinese New Year season – starting on Chinese New Year Eve and continuing through the 15th day after New Year’s Day with the celebration of the Lantern Festival. These dishes are thought to bring good luck during the year, based on their names or appearance. There are many lists and examples presented on the Internet.

Chinese New Year foods 840e912f8b7c47aca7eb0b0e

The dishes James & Elizabeth provided showed their particular thought and care, not only for the symbolism of the names and ingredients of the dishes, but also for their appearance and actual taste.They were so special that we asked James if he would provide detailed descriptions to accompany the photos we took of the dishes. Together, they document a 5 1/2 hour dinner that offers to bring extraordinary auspiciousness to all the participants.

 

Couplets hanging about the fireplace wishing out the old year
Our happy group of James & Elizabeth’s family and friends
NV Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut

Our first wine: NV Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut as an aperitif, which we enjoyed while James was cooking.

🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig with Pomelo and Hoisin Sauce
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig with Pomelo and Hoisin Sauce
🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig with Pomelo and Hoisin Sauce

🐖紅燒乳豬 • Roasted Suckling Pig

The culinary history of a roasted pig in China goes back more than 1,400 years. From the Southern and Northern Periods 南北朝, records showed 22 different recipes to roast a pig.  In central and southern China, it is customary that a roasted pig is presented to the ancestors on Ching Ming Festival 清明節 (Tomb Sweeping Day). The tradition of consuming a roasted pig during a large family gathering extended beyond the Tomb Sweeping Day and the pig is nowadays featured wherever there is a major celebration or a feast, particularly in Cantonese communities.

 

1995 Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne

This 1995 vintage Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, while aged, still drank beautifully and went nicely with the lusciousness of the Roasted Suckling Pig.

🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms

🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms

This is a traditional New Year dish in Cantonese speaking communities. It is invariably featured in New Year meals at home and in restaurants. Most of the ingredients rhyme with phrases of good fortune in the Cantonese dialect. The homonyms are 發財~髮菜 (make a fortune);好市~蠔豉 (good business);生財~生菜 (grow a fortune)

🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue
🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue

 

🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue

From the idiom 年年有餘 (surplus every year), fish (魚) has become an essential food ingredient around the New Year because 魚 and 餘 are homonyms. (Usually the fish is not eaten but carried over to the new year to symbolize surplus. We had leftover fish!) Tongue (脷) is another popular food ingredient in New Year meals because 脷 and 利, meaning profit or benefit, are also homonyms. This homonym pair works only in Cantonese because in Mandarin, tongue is written as 舌 and pronounced differently. Note that tongue is usually mixed in and cooked with the oyster dish described above (發財好市 ,生財大利 lettuce and large tongue).

I picked the name 漁人得利 for this dish because it contains homonyms for both surplus (漁=魚 and 餘) and profit (利 and 脷). The phrase came from the second part of the idiom 鷸蚌相爭、漁人得利, which literally means “when the snipe and the clam fight, the fisherman nets the benefits (both the clam and the snipe)”. The story – when two sides quarrel, it is always the third party who benefits – on which this idiom is based (https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/鷸蚌相爭,漁人得利) dates back to the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history. I created this dish a few years ago not just because it features two popular New Year food ingredients (fish and tongue) but to remind myself to be in harmony with others (和氣), living up to the New Year idiom 和氣生財 (peace brings money).

🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue
🐟漁人得利 • Steamed Fish Filet with Sliced Pork Tongue and 🥬發財好市 • Braised Dried Oysters (蠔豉) with Black Moss Seaweed (髮菜), Lettuce (生菜) and Dried Chinese Shiitake Mushrooms
2007 Jacques Bavard Bourgogne-Aligoté Puligny-Montrachet

A wonderful 2007 Jacques Bavard Bourgogne-Aligoté Puligny-Montrachet to accompany the Braised Dried Oysters and Steamed Fish Filet

🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce
🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce
🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce

🐓薑蓉鹽焗雞 • Chicken Baked in Salt, served with Minced Ginger Sauce

Chicken is not an everyday dish in southern China and is reserved for special occasion meals. Chicken baked in salt is a famous 東江 and 客家 Hakka dish originated more than 300 years ago from the salt fields of Guangdong Province, it is nowadays seldom prepared at home and not often found on restaurants menus (unless preordered a day in advance).

清炒蘆筍 • Sautéed Asparagus

清炒蘆筍 • Sautéed Asparagus

Just using up surplus asparagus from an upcoming dish. Read on for hidden meaning!

🥕🥒葡汁焗六蔬 • Baked Six Vegetables in a Mild Portuguese Curry Sauce
(西蘭花、台山菜花、紅蘿蔔、夏南瓜、蘑菇、洋蔥)

🥕🥒葡汁焗六蔬 • Baked Six Vegetables in a Mild Portuguese Curry Sauce(西蘭花、台山菜花、紅蘿蔔、夏南瓜、蘑菇、洋蔥)

This dish usually features 4 vegetables. However, four 四 rhymes with 死, which means death, and thus not a good omen for the New Year. Therefore 2 vegetables were added to make the number 6 六 which rhymes with 祿 (福祿壽), meaning blessings, happiness and prosperity.

🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers
🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers

🥩燒烤肋眼牛扒 • Broiled Ribeye Cap Steak, served with Tricolor Sweet Peppers

Beef is not a traditional Chinese New Year dinner dish. But we were celebrating New Year in New York ….

2012 Cantine San Marzano Collezione Cinquanta Salento IGT

2012 Cantine San Marzano Collezione Cinquanta Salento IGT

1996 Château Gruaud Larose

1996 Château Gruaud Larose

Two nice reds to accompany the delicious steak and vegetables.

🏎一路順暢 • Grilled Asparagus with Chinese Sausage

🏎一路順暢 • Grilled Asparagus with Chinese Sausage

The name of the dish literally means “one smooth journey”. The word play here is that 路順 (smooth road) and 蘆筍 (asparagus) are homonyms, as well as 暢 (unobstructed) and 腸 (sausage). The ingredients were plated in straight lines in foil trays to emphasize smoothness.

臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味拼盤 • Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats (pork and duck) and Sausages (liver)
臘味飯 • Rice Cooked with Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats

臘味飯 • Rice Cooked with Steamed Assorted Air-dried Meats

Steaming rice with the Assorted Air-dried Meats gives the rice a delicious flavor and aroma from the meats.

 

🥥椰汁年糕 • Coconut Flavored Glutinous New Year Cake

🥥椰汁年糕 • Coconut Flavored Glutinous New Year Cake

“Chinese New Year cakes can be eaten year round, but traditionally, they’re served around Chinese New Year to celebrate the holiday. In Mandarin it’s called 年糕 (Niángāo) and the literal transition of that is Year Cake. Because the second word 糕 also sounds like the word “higher” in Chinese, it was thought to be a lucky food as eating cake would help you achieve a higher status or prosperity.” (From Angel Wong’s Kitchen http://www.angelwongskitchen.com)

🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)
🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)
🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)

🍊水果 • Fruits (Tangerines 柑 and Persimmons)

柑 and 金 (gold) are homonyms. Also, the golden orange color of tangerines and persimmons symbolized a bowl of gold.

Thank you, James & Elizabeth, for such an auspicious welcome to the Year of the Pig!

Best restaurants in the U.S. and World

laliste logo

There are many “best restaurant” lists. I found one by La Liste which provides a fairly transparent methodology for their ranking of their top 1000 restaurants in the world.

I’ve extracted the top restaurants in the U.S. from this list; there are 90 of them. Here they are. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve eaten at – including the top-rated Guy Savoy in Paris that I had the great pleasure of dining at in December 2018.

RESTAUANT LOCATION SCORE (%)
Guy Savoy Paris, France 99.75
Le Bernardin New York 99.75
The French Laundry Yountville 99.25
Eleven Madison Park New York 99.25
The Inn at Little Washington Washington 98.75
Blue Hill at Stone Barns Tarrytown 97.75
Jean-Georges New York 97.50
The Restaurant at Meadowood Saint Helena 97.50
Alinea Chicago 97.00
Daniel New York 96.50
Manresa Los Gatos 95.25
Del Posto New York 94.75
Saison San Francisco 94.25
Per Se New York 93.00
Guy Savoy (USA) Las Vegas 92.25
Atelier Crenn San Francisco 91.75
Providence Los Angeles 90.50
Coi San Francisco 88.50
Picasso at the Bellagio Las Vegas 87.00
Pineapple and Pearls Washington 87.00
Uchu New York 87.00
Gabriel Kreuther New York 86.75
minibar by José Andres Washington 86.25
Masa New York 85.50
Spago Beverly Hills Beverly Hills 85.50
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare New York 85.25
The Modern New York 84.75
Oriole Chicago 84.50
Quince San Francisco 84.00
Benu San Francisco 84.00
Melisse Santa Monica 83.75
Marea New York 83.25
Momofuku Ko New York 83.00
Atera New York 82.75
Gary Danko San Francisco 82.75
Acquerello San Francisco 82.25
Aquavit New York 81.75
Everest Chicago 81.50
Bouley New York 81.25
Plume Washington 81.25
The Bazaar by José Andres Los Angeles 81.25
Jungsik New York 81.00
Acadia Chicago 81.00
Gramercy Tavern New York 81.00
Aska Brooklyn 81.00
Lukshon Culver City 81.00
Smyth Chicago 81.00
Eight Tables by George Chen San Francisco 81.00
The Lost Kitchen Freedom 81.00
Blanca New York 80.75
Cut by Wolfgang Puck (Beverly Hills) Beverly Hills 80.75
Farmhouse Restaurant Forestville 80.75
Blue Hill New York 80.75
Gotham Bar and Grill New York 80.75
Lazy Bear San Francisco 80.75
Sushi Ginza Onodera New York 80.75
Baumé Palo Alto 80.50
Joël Robuchon (USA) Las Vegas 80.50
Michael Mina San Francisco 80.50
The Plumed Horse Saratoga 80.50
Ai Fiori New York 80.50
Cafe Boulud New York 80.50
Sushi Yasuda New York 80.50
Fiola Washington 80.50
Babbo New York 80.25
NoMad New York 80.25
Sushi Nakazawa New York 80.25
Addison San Diego 80.00
Chef Mavro Honolulu 80.00
Menton Boston 80.00
Studio Laguna Beach 80.00
Campton Place Restaurant San Francisco 80.00
Blackbird Chicago 80.00
Commander’s Palace New Orleans 80.00
La Grenouille New York 80.00
Vetri Philadelphia 80.00
Georgian Room Sea Island 80.00
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire Las Vegas 80.00
Carbone New York 80.00
Kyo Ya New York 80.00
é by José Andres Las Vegas 80.00
Agern New York 80.00
Californios San Francisco 80.00
n/naka Los Angeles 80.00
Trois Mec Los Angeles 80.00
Q Sushi Los Angeles 80.00
Le Pigeon Portland 80.00
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon New York 80.00
Vespertine Culver City 80.00
SingleThread Healdsburg 80.00
ATOMIX New York 80.00